Time heals all wounds… or so they say. But since none of us have control over time – or over much else, really, though we think we do – Pinoys have resorted instead to mastering the art of laughter.
Filipinos gather, it is true, to enjoy food and each other’s company, perhaps with some singing and music on the side as well – but always, always with laughter in their midst. For finding humor in practically any situation is a decidedly Filipino attribute. And though it may seem inappropriate – even crass – at times, it is part and parcel of every Filipino gathering, regardless of the reason or venue, as certain as the ever-present feasting.
There is a well-known saying back home: “The family who prays together, stays together.” It would be fairly true to say as well: “Those who laugh together, stay together.” For Filipino humor, in general, is good-natured, not disparaging or divisive, with a twofold aim of not only bringing enjoyment to others but of bringing them closer together as well.
As with a good meal, the enjoyment of a good laugh is not only good for one’s soul but strengthens the bonds between souls as well. In the case of Filipinos, laughter seeks to maintain those bonds even in death. It seems impolite, irreverent even, to hear laughter during someone’s wake, or while encamping at the cemetery during All Soul’s Day – both of which, traditionally, are whole day affairs were people pray and eat together, attend Mass together, reminisce and laugh together. It seems only natural to keep a loved one’s memory alive by sharing in those very things shared with him or her in life – memories, prayer, food, and laughter.
I have a friend from home who is undergoing a tough time in her life right now, and whom I have been texting and praying for daily. Last week, she texted me, nonchalantly mentioning that she had just made a drastic move in her life. I called her up right away, incredulous that she hadn’t given any warning whatsoever, nor given any thought to consulting me first – her faithful friend! I was greeted on the other end with peals of laughter. It was a completely unexpected, perfectly executed, and thus utterly successful April Fool’s joke.
It was probably the first time I had fallen for such a serious joke – hook, line and sinker. Like a couple of deranged women, we shared the most delicious five minutes of belly laughs I’ve had in a long time. Her problems still very much remain, but so does her capacity to revel in the pure joy of laughter – even for a few precious minutes.
Such is the humor of Filipinos, enduring in spite of difficulties – or perhaps, because of it. For laughter is an effective remedy against stress, depression, and likely many illnesses too, reducing stress hormones and activating one’s immune system. It is one of the main reasons why Filipinos have been able to not only survive but thrive in spite of devastating calamities and tragedies, long-distance separation from family, extreme poverty, or even the seemingly monotonous routine of a humdrum life. It may not be a cure-all, but it is certainly a powerful salve for the aches, pains and doldrums of daily life.
I could ramble on indefinitely about this or that instance when Filipino humor saved the day. But one in particular stands out. It was right after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in Leyte, where my brother-in-law’s family is from. His family was thankfully intact, though their house wasn’t – the roof and part of the walls had been destroyed. His nephew posted a photo of the partially destroyed house on Facebook for his mom, who was here in the U.S. The caption read: “Mother, our roof was stolen by Yolanda!” Clearly, their sense of humor had weathered the storm and had emerged unscathed as well!
And so it is, that Filipinos laugh easily – perhaps too easily at times. Some may see it as childish, but I see it more as a sign of child-like simplicity, of an uncomplicated heart – one that can rise above difficulties to feel pure joy, one still capable of looking at the world in wonder and awe, and at others with empathy and compassion, despite being well-acquainted with hardship and sorrow itself. In short, a heart that laughs is a heart that is alive.
Mabuhay ang kalokohang Pinoy! 😉
(Long live Pinoy humor/craziness!)